In 2015 we bought a 2013 Nissan Leaf, and we love it. I will outline our favorite parts of the car and a few things you should be aware of.
We recently hit 40,000 miles in our Leaf, and this year alone, we have put on almost 10,000 miles. The Leaf is our first choice car to drive because the cost is so low per mile to drive. I will start with main reasons we bought our electric car, then pros and cons, and then wrap up with a few extra thoughts.
Due to moving, traveling, and life, we needed to buy a new car. I had sold my previous 2006 VW Jetta TDI and needed a new ride. As you have seen from other posts in this blog we look for the less traditional route that has environmental effort. After a few months of casually watching YouTube videos and doing online searches for electric cars, I had settled on either the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.
One thing I don’t think people realize is how cheap used electric cars are. A new Nissan Leaf, even today, can range from $31,000 to $38,000. However, a used Leaf with under 20,000 miles can be half of that or less! The key reasons I found the drop of depreciation is a lack of knowledge about the cars, little to no history on how well they will last over time, and at the current moment, government incentives to buy new ones.
The main reasons I wanted an electric vehicle was the elimination of gas (for at least my car). I wanted to be a part of the movement where the use of any oil is reduced. I don’t see oil in the long term future of society, and I wanted to make a stance to help progress this. I really liked the idea of a silent car. Electric cars make (almost) no noise. There are no engine sounds and no engine vibration; it’s like driving an electric golf cart. Outside of the electric details, I had decided I wanted a small car that was easy to drive but could fit my four-person family.
I had been tracking vehicle prices for a few weeks, preparing for a purchase through AutoTrader or Cars.com. I wanted to see as many cars as I could with features, miles, condition, and price to get a feel for what was fair pricing. Once a good deal hit these listings, I went out for a test drive. Kristen joined me, and the car was awesome. We had found a 2-year-old car with 17,000 miles on it listed for $15,000! On top of that, it was Nissan’s highest trim Leaf, with every feature except the backup camera. It looked perfect on the inside and had no visual points of wear and tear.
Needless to say, we bought it.
The car has been amazing ever since. We have driven it everywhere. For the first 9 months, we used it as the main car. The only time we drove my wife’s SUV was when we needed the extra range.
We opted not to buy the Level 2, $1,000 charger from Nissan as I knew there were lots of 3rd party options coming on the market that were cheaper or better products. The Leaf comes with a trickle charger, which means it plugs directly into a 110-volt household outlet. At first, we said we will use that until it proves it’s too slow. Two years later, we are still using only the trickle charger. It has been all we needed!
Pros and Cons from Our Experience
I would like to start with cons. I don’t think any of these are show stoppers. However, it all depends on how you intend to use the car.
- Range: While this is the most limiting issue because it prevents me from driving this car for long distances, it’s not something that prevents me from using the Leaf for 90% of my driving time. For most times we need a car, we are driving down the street to drop kids off at local events, driving to work, driving to get a bite to eat, grocery shopping, etc. It still goes at least 75 miles on a charge. How often do you drive more than that in one solid blow? There have been three times when we have needed the car to go further and before we left, I knew it would be close. However, there are charging stations everywhere, and we have had no problem using them to give us the extra boost needed. We live in Texas (the land of the pickup truck) and have all these charging stations. More stations are popping up constantly, and they are cheap. I have filled up at a Blink station, receiving 50% charge and only paid $1.50. We had a great lunch while we got charged up!
- Radio Interface: I am not a fan of most car interfaces. I am waiting for the day they become a more open source or just all switch to CarPlay and Android Auto. That being said, there is some good basic information the system provides, but it’s missing some simple features that would really improve usability. There is also not that much information on the batteries. I would like a lot more information about battery performance, drain rating, health, etc. There are only “reports” on kWh/h, and currently, system electrical usage. I think these are a good start, but I want more! That being said, I do like that it has Bluetooth, AUX input, CD, USB, Sirius, etc. I have not had an issue with it, but that’s all standard now in most cars regardless.
- Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) System: While I understand the safety of this feature if you are in a city with pedestrians, I am not. I live on the edge of suburbia, and this is annoying. Older models seem to have a factory option to turn this off, but it’s not an option I have seen in later models. The sound the VSP puts off is a whining spaceship sound that makes the car sound funny. There is also no easy way to disable it (which I get why, but still). It also makes a beeping noise when it backs up that I don’t think is needed. I like the car being silent, and they ruin it with these noises.
Now let’s talk positives!
- Interior space: For it being a small car, the inside has quite a bit of space. I have sat in every seat in the car and can fit comfortably. We normally have two car seats in the back row, and all four of us fit in the car. We have also had our two 60-pound dogs in the back! While there is not much room for anything else, it is all we need.
- Drivability: I love driving. I loved my 5-speed VW, and I really enjoy driving this car. The electric drive system is super responsive, and you can beat just about any car off the line at a light. The car easily accelerates to 70 mph/112 kph and can be driven in a few different ‘modes’. You can find the right one for you and then always change it!
- Overall Size: While it’s roomy on the inside, it is still a small/compact car. There are so many times Kristen and I have said, “Small car wins!” This happens whether we are in small parking lots, tight traffic situations, or weird situations where you have to slither through things like School drop off traffic etc.
- Charging Options: Since we got the SL trim, we got the 6.6 kWh charger and the DC Fast charge option. I will do another post just about charging to show options and methods, but the Leaf is very versatile in ways to charge it. The process is as simple as filling up your gas tank once you get used to it.
- Maintenance Costs: One thing to keep in mind if you are looking to get an electric car is the greatly reduced costs to maintain it. There is no oil to be changed, no spark plugs to replace, far less moving parts than even a diesel engine. The only regular maintenance on it is rotating the tires, replace the brake fluid every 30,000 miles, and safety inspections.
- Fuel Costs: This one is hard for me to calculate for a couple of reasons. While I know what I pay for kWH at home, we have 30 solar panels on the roof that push in a lot of power during sunny days. If I charge at a time when there is no sun or all clouds, I pay about $0.082 kWh. To charge my full 24kwh battery, it costs about $2! Most of the time, I am only using about 50% of my battery. We figured the car adds maybe $30 to our monthly electric bill. However, with all the solar panels on the roof, if the house is consuming power, it will pull the power from the panels, first. If the panels are producing more power than the house needs, it will then push it back to the grid. I say this because if the car is charging in full sun, I will not see that usage hit my electric meter. The energy is consumed before the meter counts it as energy production. I don’t want to get into all these details here, but let’s just say on a sunny day, if my AC is not running, I can charge my car and use all the lights, electronics, and anything else at home, and we will produce more than we used!
I hope this helps if anyone is looking into eletric cars and/or Nissan Leafs. I will add this note – if you found this blog and are looking to go electric, do it! You will never buy a gas car again because you will like it so much. Here are some of the models I would be looking at: Tesla Model 3, BMW i3, Nissan Leaf (new version, bigger range), Chevy Bolt, Chevy Volt, or Chrysler Pacifica hybrid (40 miles on all electric before the gas engine kicks in).